Penn State Fayette women set for another big season
The Penn State Fayette women's basketball team put everything together and won its first PSUAC championship last season.
Now comes the encore.
“We are returning all five starters and our first girl off the bench,” said sixth-year coach Kurt Mattern, whose team went 15-12 overall and 14-2 in the conference. “We have great expectations. Last year, I think people were surprised we won. But this year, everybody will be gunning for us. We won't sneak up on anybody this year.”
The Roaring Lions' top returning seniors are guards Kaitlyn Novak and Kasey Ruble.
“Having Kasey Ruble back is big,” Mattern said. “She is a four-year starting point guard, and we call her the human press-breaker. Novak is a knockdown 3-point shooter, and she is the best perimeter defender in the conference.”
Ruble was a second-team USCAA All-American last season. Junior guard/forward Jill Guthrie — a Uniontown alum — earned first-team USCAA All-American honors last winter after averaging nearly 20 points per game. Sophomore guard Caitlin Wontroba — who graduated from Laurel Highlands and averaged more than 16 points last season — and junior forward Shelby Yourchick are the other returning starters. Junior forward Stephanie Longo was the top reserve last season.
“This group of girls is the finest team I've ever coached,” Mattern said, reflecting back on more than three decades of coaching in high school and college. “And we've picked up some freshmen shooters.”
Freshmen Shannon Flament (forward, Laurel Highlands), Carly Gruss (guard) Samantha Lee (guard), Tara Neely (guard), Kelsie Seman (guard, Connellsville) and Tori Simpson (guard/forward) provide Mattern with talented depth. Gruss was a leading scorer at Conemaugh Valley High School, and Neely was an all-state player in West Virginia.
“Everybody on our roster, I feel comfortable putting them in a game, and I've never had that,” Mattern said. “(Lack of) height is still a weakness, but our team speed will be our biggest strength. They've put in the time in the weight room over the summer, and they ran, and I've never had a group work this hard.”
The Roaring Lions beat Brandywine, 77-75, to win last season's PSUAC crown. This year, Mattern expects Brandywine, Greater Allegheny and Beaver to be the top competition in the PSUAC, but his team doesn't fear anybody.
“People are going to have to play us,” Mattern said. “If we don't set our goals high, why bother.”
The goals will be to win the PSUAC championship again, and perhaps make a major impact in the USCAA Tournament after going 0-2 at the national event last season.
“I really would love to win a national championship,” Novak said. “Starting out as freshmen, we were nothing and we've really built it up.”
Jason Black is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-626-3534.